EUGENE, ORE. (27-May) -- Coming into tonight's Distance Night at Hayward, the first session of the two-day Prefontaine Classic, double Olympic champion Mo Farah hadn't lost a 10,000m race since 2011. That streak included his Olympic title in London in 2012, IAAF World Championships victories in Moscow in 2013 and Beijing in 2015, and the European title in Zurich in 2014.
Here tonight at historic Hayward Field, Farah kept his undefeated streak alive with a world-leading 26:53.71, but had to beat back surprising challenges from two athletes he admitted he didn't even know: Kenyans William Malel Sitonik, a Japan-based runner who competes for the Honda corporate team, and Nicholas Mboroto Kosimbei, the 2014 IAAF World Junior Championships bronze medalist.
"I didn't know who he was!" Farah told reporters after the race, not specifying which man he was referring to. "It was very surprising."
After early pacemakers, German Fernandez and Titus Mbishei, dropped out, the field of 28 men was towed around the track by Bahrain's Albert Rop. The Kenyan-born Rop settled the field down and took them through half way in 13:23.2, slightly slower than the 13:20 which organizers had targeted. Farah stayed nestled behind Rop, and the race seemed to be going to form.
But a lap later, Farah hit a mid-race slump, falling back to eighth position.
"Honestly, I felt good in the beginning, but mid-race I kind of felt sluggish," Farah said. "Just didn't quite get moving."
Rop dropped out after hitting the 8-K point (21:36.2), and then the race got interesting. With a 63.5-second lap, Kosimbei gapped the field, leaving Farah in his wake to tow along the chase pack. Farah wasn't happy with his position.
"I had to make a decision," Farah explained. "Continue pushing with the guys sitting behind me, or try and win the race."
Kosimbei still had the lead with four laps to go, but Farah would soon reel him in and draw even. The two men shared the lead with three laps to go, followed closely by Sitonik and all-purpose road racer Stephen Sambu, another Kenyan. Farah now seemed poised to squeeze down the pace for the last two laps, and put the race away, but Sitonik had different ideas. With 250 meters to go, Sitonik shot ahead, catching Farah off guard. Farah started to recall what happened in the 2011 IAAF World Championships when another athlete unfamiliar to him, Ethiopia's Ibrahim Jeilan, went past him and won the gold medal.
"Daegu, I remember, Jeilan was like, I'd never heard of him," Farah recalled. "He comes to the World Championships in the 10-K and he run past me. You can't take it for granted."
Clad in white kit, Sitonik flew around the Bowerman Curve into the homestretch leading by a few steps. Farah's pride was on the line now, he he didn't want to lose at Hayward. The Briton began to sprint furiously in lane-2, and swept past his much younger rival inside of the last 60 meters to get the win.
"I was just testing the guy to see what he's got," Farah joked with reporters. Then he added: "No. I got the crowd behind me. I was just going to go win it. I don't want to lose a track race here."
Sitonik finished a close second in 26:54.66 (his first-ever sub-27:00 clocking), followed by Tamirat Tola of Ethiopia in 26:57.33. Sambu was the fourth and final athlete to break 27-minutes (26:58.25); Kosimbei finished seventh in a career best 27:02.59. A total of 19 men broke 28 minutes, including the USA's Eric Jenkins who got an Olympic Games qualifying mark of 27:48.02 in 16th place.
"That was hard," said Jenkins who ended up leading the race's second group for most of the distance. "Definitely hard, but that's what we were expecting. I did a lot of the work, a lot of work."
Despite getting the victory and a world leader, Farah wasn't pleased with his time.
"To be honest, I was kind of disappointed to run that time," he said. "I was hoping to run a lot faster than than. I'm in great shape."
In the other big race here tonight, Kenya's Hellen Obiri used her 3:57 1500m speed to run away from a stacked field in the 5000m in 14:32.02. Obiri beat a trio of top Kenyans --Viola Kibiwot, Vivian Cheruiyot and Mercy Cherono-- with a powerful last lap move.
"One lap to go," said Obiri when asked when she knew she had the victory. "Because Viola Kibiwot was behind me, so I started to move with 200 meters to go."
Kibiwot finished second in 14:35.13, and Cheruiyot was third in 14:35.69.
Back in 11th position, Molly Huddle made a credible attempt to break her own American record of 14:42.64. She fell short, but nonetheless ran a very solid 14:48.14, the fastest 5-K by an American woman this year.
"I thought I had nothing to lose, so I stuck my nose in there," Huddle said. She added: "Like a little bit on the rusty side, but hopefully I can sharpen up from there."
In the USATF High Performance 800m, Alysia Montano held off a late charge by Kate Grace to get the win in 2:00.78 to 2:01.16.
"It was awesome!" said the always bubbly Montano. She added: "For me, tonight was great."
Grace, who won the 1500m at the Hoke One One meet last Friday in Los Angeles, was also pleased with her performance.
"I'm happy to always finish every race this season on the podium," Grace said. "If I keep doing that, I'll be alright."